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Hong Kong goes West - When Hong Kong film makers attempt to break the Western market - part 5

Darren Murray
Hong Kong goes West - When Hong Kong film makers attempt to break the Western market - part 5


In my previous article there was a comment regarding a film that I had left out. I apologise in advance if there are any films that I miss out. This may be due to me simply forgetting or just not seeing a particular film.

After the Forbidden Kingdom, Jackie Chan would return to Hong Kong to work on Director Derek Yee’s Shinjiku Incident (2009). A total change of pace for Chan, with a purely dramatic role, it seemed it was a step in the right direction for the ageing action star.

Unfortunately Chan’s next leading role would be in the family movie The Spy Next Door (2010), which is not only Chan’s poorest American made film, but one of the poorest of his career. The film is almost a remake of the earlier Vin Diesel vehicle The Pacifier (2004), and like that film, the filmmakers don’t use their star to the films advantage

There is the odd small fight scene in the film, but not enough to raise the excitement level to anything above mediocre.

Luckily in the same year Chan followed this up with The Karate Kid (2010), a much better film than it had any right to be. Following pretty much the same structure as the original film, but with Kung Fu taking the place of Karate, the film has young Jaden Smith being taught by Chan’s Mr Han the art of Kung Fu through some unorthodox training.

The film moistly uses Chan in a dramatic capacity with only one excellently done fight scene, where he takes on a group of children and fends them off without hurting them. There was one other fight scene towards the end of the film, where Chan takes on fellow Hong Kong star Yu Rong Kwong, which was removed from the final cut of the film. This can be seen on the deleted scenes of the DVD release of the film.

Jaden Smith is better in the film than expected, with him coming off as annoying during the opening scenes of the film before finding some humility, although Jackie Chan is the main draw of the film, giving an unexpectedly emotional performance throughout.

The only drawback from the film is the title, with the film having nothing to do with Karate, and only being kept as a title to tie it in with the original Karate Kid (1985).

To date The Karate Kid has been Jackie Chan’s last Hollywood production, although his later Skiptrace (2016) is very much like a Hollywood feature with it being shot in English by Hollywood director Renny Harlin and co-starring Johnny Knoxville. Even with this the film was still made by a Chinese production company.

Chan still has the upcoming The Foreigner (2017), Journey to China: The Mystery of Iron Mask (2017) and the recently announced Shanghai Dawn which are all either Hollywood or international productions, so it will be interesting to see how each of them turn out.

Veteran American star Michael Biehn may not be as famous as he once was, but has appeared in his fair share of classics through the years, with films like Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986) and Tombstone (1993).

Hong Kong film legend Ti Lung has never attempted to break the Western market. The closest he has come to this is Swordsplay/Western hybrid The Warriors Way (2010). Helmed by first time director Sngmoo Lee, Warriors Way marked the Hollywood debut of Korean superstar Jang Dong-gun.

Garnering poor reviews, the Warriors Way is actually an enjoyably quirky take, with some good action scenes and some good supporting turns from Danny Huston and Geoffrey Rush. Ti Lung also shows up as a Swords Master on the hunt for the lead character, although his screen time is limited.  

In 2010 he would finally make his directorial debut with Shadowguard: The Blood Bond (2010), a poor attempt at a 1980’ style action movie. Not all the blame can be laid at the feet of Biehn, as he has went on record stating that the completed film isn’t what he had envisaged, and that he wasn’t allowed to complete the film the way he would have liked.

Produced by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, the film has a number of issues which can be mainly put down to low production values and an inexperienced film crew. The action scenes are generally poor, with the good work of action director Fan Siu Wong being ruined due to poor editing. Most of the gun shots in the film were added in postproduction. In addition parts of Biehn’s dialogue have been dubbed over by another voice artist which can be jarring when watching the film.

Biehn makes for a good action hero, but it would seem that additional scenes were shot by director Anthony Szeto after the fact to make co-star Phoenix Chou more of the focus of the film. Chou is undeniably attractive and performs well enough in the action scenes. The same can’t be said of her acting skills, with her having to go a long way to become a leading lady.

One saving grace of the film is the always dependable Simon Yam who plays the films villain, and chews the scenery every chance he gets. Fellow Hong Kong star Michael Wong also makes an appearance although it seems that he was used because he can fly a helicopter.

Maggie Q had starred in a smaller number of Hong Kong films than some other actresses that attempted to break into the Hollywood market. Q had the bonus of originally hailing from Hawaii and being fluent in English. Starting as a model, she made her first Hong Kong movie appearance in the terrible Model from Hell (2000) followed quickly by the more successful Gen Y Cops (2000), which found her working alongside American star Paul Rudd.

She followed these up with director Alfred Cheung’s Manhattan Midnight (2001), which had her working in America alongside Richard Grieco. It is no surprise that the film wasn’t a total success although from this she found herself cast in Naked Weapon (2001), another entry in the Naked Killer series. Although pretty poor the film was still a success which led to further high profile Hong Kong films.

Maggie Q finally found herself starring in a good deal of big budget Hollywood productions such as Mission Impossible 3 (2006) and Die Hard 4.0 (2007). Her first American film of the decade was the ensemble action comedy Operation: Endgame (2010), acting alongside the likes of Zach Galifianakis and Adam Scott.

This would be followed by the movie adaptation King of Fighters (2010), based on the famous video game. Considering this was the American debut of Hong Kong director Gordon Chan, who had previously directed the classic Beast Cops (1998), the film is ultimately a major disappointment, with Q and co-star Will Yun Lee being the only highlights.

Although Maggie Q has now starred in her fair share of Hollywood movies, she has found greater success on television, with her being cast in the leading role in Nikita (2010 – 2013). Loosely based on the Luc Besson movie of the same name, Nikita actually turned out quite well and was a better realised version of the story than the last television show based on the film, La Femme Nikita (1997).

The show ran for 3 full seasons before it was renewed for a shortened 4th season, which was made to wrap the story up. Nikita would prove to be a good showcase for Maggie Q’s talents, with her being especially impressive in the shows action scenes.

With his success in not only Hong Kong but in Hollywood it isn’t really a stretch to see Yuen Woo Ping working further afield, this time working in the Indian film industry. Woo Ping of course isn’t the first Hong Kong action director to work in India, with Ching Siu Tung working on superhero movie Krrish (2006).

Woo Ping’s Indian film of choice would be the Science Fiction epic Enthiran (2010), starring Superstar Rajinikanth (This is actually how he is credited on screen). Enthiran is a lot of fun with Rajinikanth getting to play two different characters in the film. Although he co-stars with the beautiful Aishwarya Rai, this is mainly his show, with him getting the majority of the screen time.

Enthiran is probably closest in spirit to some of the crazy films that come from Hong Kong, with it having slapstick comedy, violent action, serious scenes and an overall tone that changes from scene to scene.

The action by Yuen Woo Ping is great , done mostly in a comic book style, especially towards the end of the film. At certain points in the film it is similar to the work of Chow Sing Chi. One of the best action scenes involves Rajinikanth taking on a gang on board of a train. Rajinikanth and his stuntman do great work, with the sequence being both exciting and over the top in equal measure.

Like Yuen Woo Ping and Ching Siu Tung, Hong Kong director Tony Leung Siu Hung also worked on a couple of Indian films as action director. The first of these was Lahore (2010), a kickboxing movie that really doesn’t add anything new to the genre. Surprisingly the film is a loose remake of the American film Best of the Best (1989), although it must be said that Lahore is clearly a better made film with better shot action and great cinematography.  

Chow Yun Fat’s last Hollywood movie to date would be the espionage thriller Shanghai (2010). Chow has mainly a supporting role, with John Cusack and Gong Li playing the leads. Shanghai wasn’t reviewed well by film critics at the time which is unfortunate as the film is actually very well made, with great performances from all involved, excellent production values and even some small helpings of action.

As well as Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat, there is a small role from Hong Kong star Andy On. Outside of Hong Kong actors there is the excellent Ken Watanabe and a fleeting appearance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Another drawback for the film was its delayed release in the United States, not being released until 2015, five years after it was made. Director Mikael Hafstrom had went on to make The Rite (2011) and Escape Plan (2013) in the interim before Shanghai was eventually released.

Although Priest (2011) is no-where close to being a great film, for actress Maggie Q it was a definite rise in quality in comparison with her previous Hollywood venture, King of Fighters. The film reteamed director Scott Stewart with lead actor Paul Bettany, who he had worked with previously on Legion (2009).

Based on a Japanese Manga, Priest is good from a visual standpoint, and has some decent action scenes. The major drawbacks from the film is a very short running time, which limits any chance of character development for the likes of Paul Bettany, Maggie Q and Karl Urban who shows up as the head Vampire of the film.

After headlining the Wuxia Reign of Assassins (2009), Michelle Yeoh would return to the screen for more dramatic fare with Luc Bessons The Lady (2011). Based on the true life story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the film gives Yeoh a great chance to show her dramatic ability, although the film can be somewhat stagey due to the nature of the story.

Also featuring a good supporting turns from David Thewlis and being excellently shot,The Lady has a lot to recommend although fans of director Luc Besson’s more action orientated films may be disappointed.

As well as working on The Lady in this year, Yeoh would also loan her vocal talents to the animated film kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), which also features the voice of her fellow Hong Kong star Jackie Chan.

Musician and actor Jay Chou may hail from Taiwan, but he is no stranger to Hong Kong audiences with him starring in a number of popular Hong Kong movies. He didn’t get off to the best start, headlining Andrew Lau’s Initial D (2005), with him turning in a seemingly bored performance. Luckily he followed this up with Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), with him being used more effectively in a worthwhile supporting role.

Chow has since gone on to become a director himself, with the drama The Secret (2007) and The Rooftop (2013), a truly crazy musical martial arts hybrid.

During this time he made his Hollywood debut with The Green Hornet (2011). A Green Hornet film had been in development for years with multiple actors named as possible leads. Surprisingly when a Green Hornet film eventually reached the screen that it would take the form of a Seth Rogan comedy.

Originally The Green Hornet was going to feature the work of another Hong Kong superstar, Chow Sing Chi. Chow was going to both direct and co-star as Kato, the role originally played by superstar Bruce Lee. Sadly this was not meant to be, with Chow eventually pulling out of the film to be replaced by art house director Michel Gondry, which at first seemed a strange choice.

Jay Chou then stepped in to take on the role of Kato. Surprisingly Chou turned out to be one of the best things about the film, working well with lead Rogan and carrying out the action scenes with considerable skill.

The Green Hornet may not be to everyone’s taste, as true fans of the character will be no doubt annoyed at the film taking a more comedic approach to proceedings. In a number of respects The Green Hornet plays more like an action comedy from the 1980’s or early 1990’s.

It does take a while to get to the action, but when it comes it is well done, with Michel Gondry proving that perhaps he was the correct choice of director after all. The film clearly wasn’t the success the filmmakers envisioned, with it being recently announced that director Gavin O Conner is currently working on a new, serious version of the character.

The Resident Evil film could never exactly be called critically acclaimed. They must be doing something right, as they are now on the sixth entry in the series. Fans of the games have complained that the films focus are on the character of Alice (Milla Jovovich), who doesn’t appear in any of the games. Because of this each continuing entry tries to include some of the more popular characters from the series, such as Chris Redfield, Leon S Kennedy and in Resident Evil: Retribution’s (2012) case Ada Wong.

Chinese actress Li Bingbing was chosen to play the character, although like the majority of the co-stars in the Resident Evil series, she doesn’t get a great deal to do with all of the films being about how great Milla Jovovich is. Still she certainly looks great in the role, pretty much resembling Ada Wong’s look from the games.

It is no secret that RZA of the Wu Tang Clan is a fan of martial arts, with a good deal of their music videos being heavily influenced by the films of Shaw Brothers studios.

After working on kickboxing drama Lahore, Tony Leung Siu Hung would find himself once again working on an Indian movie. This time it would be the Tamil superhero movie Mugamoodi (2012), a decent stab at the genre, although it pales in comparison to its Hollywood counterparts. There are some well choreographed action scenes throughout, but nothing comparable to Leung Siu Hung’s work in Hong Kong.

It is quite apt that RZA’s first film as director would be the Martial Arts film Man with the Iron Fists (2012). Heavily influenced by a number of martial arts films, RZA makes a decent stab at the genre, although there are some issues with the completed film, mainly to do with the length of the action scenes.

It has been reported that producer Eli Roth had advised RZA that no-one would want to watch overly long fight scenes and that he should cut them down. Eli Roth must have watched different Kung Fu films as me, as I thought that was the whole point.

The fight scenes included are at least well done, not surprising considering they come from Hong Kong action choreographer Yuen Kwai. It helps that a good deal of the cast involved were proficient in martial arts such as Byron Mann, Cung Li, Gordon Liu and Daniel Wu.

As enthusiastic as the RZA is about martial arts, he doesn’t make for a great leading man. Luckily he is backed up by a great performance from Russell Crowe, who channels his inner Oliver Reed. Rick Yune is also impressive as Zen Yi and feels more like the films hero at some points.

As a director RZA fares better, with the look of the film resembling an old school martial arts movie, with only his staging of some of the action scenes being a drawback.

In 2013 Keanu Reeves would go on to make his directorial debut with Man of Tai Chi. Instead of going on to make something pretentious like The Matrix sequels or their like, he instead went and made a straight up Martial Arts movie akin to the Cannon films of the 1980’s.

As well as carrying out directing duties, Reeves would star in the film, although he takes a secondary role as the films villain. He gave the lead to Tiger Chen whom he had met whilst making The Matrix. Chen is an extremely accomplished martial artist and even though he isn’t exactly the best actor around, does well in his first starring role.

Reeves is also good as the evil Donaka Mak, although fans of his fight scenes from The Matrix may be disappointed as he has only one fight at the finale, although it is well done. Backing Chen and Reeves up is Hong Kong stars Karen Mok and Simon Yam. Also worth mentioning is a very small role for Iko Uwais from The Raid (2011), even though he is mainly wasted in what amounts as the shortest fight scene of the film.

All of the fight scenes are excellently choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping who had worked with Reeves years before on The Matrix. The fights increase in brutality as the film goes on but can get repetitive due to a number of them taking part in the same location.

Hong Kong action director would return again to Indian shores for Krrish 3(2013), the third entry in the super hero series. Confusingly titled, as there was never a Krrish 2, Krrish 3 ends up being a slight disappointment compared to what had come before.

Hrithik Roshan returns once again as the title character and is as good as always. The stunning Priyanka Chopra also returns, but gets less to do this time. Ching Siu Tung does generate some excitement with his action scenes but are too few and far between.

The film Outcast (2014) may have went straight to DVD in a number of countries, but it is still an enjoyable action film, with a typical over the top performance from Nicolas Cage that saves it from mediocrity. The true lead of the film is Hayden Christensen, who has never been the most commanding of leads. He gets by here, and is at least convincing in the action scenes.

Although sold as a Nicolas Cage film, he doesn’t get a great deal of screen time with him only being at the start of the film then in the last third. He still manages to chew most of the scenery, with Hong Kong actor Andy On being on board to chew any scenery that is left.

In terms of a Hollywood production, this is probably the most screen time awarded to Andy On, which is surprising considering his good looks and is fluent in English, due to being from America.

Even though director Andrew Lau had made the American film The Flock, he chose not to stay in Hollywood, returning to Hong Kong to make a number of successful films. He would eventually be tempted back to Hollywood to direct Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014), a thriller based around Chinese-American Triad’s in the 1980’s.

Co-directed by Andrew Loo and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, you would be forgiven in thinking Revenge of the Green Dragons would be a good film, but it would turn out to be one of the poorest American films to come from a Hong Kong director. It could be that expectations were high, but overall Lau directs the film in a pedestrian manner. Performances are also generally poor with the only bright spot being a supporting role for the great Ray Liotta.

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Chow Yun FatDaniel WuHong KongJackie ChanLuc BessonMaggie QMichelle Yeoh

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